Government gives green light to level crossing reform

6 November 2014  •  Author: The Law Commission

The Government has accepted the majority of the reforms to level crossing law recommended by the Law Commission and Scottish Law Commission, and has committed to review the remainder.

Responding to the Commissions’ 2013 report on the law relating to level crossings, Baroness Kramer, Minister of State for Transport, has confirmed that the Government accepts the Commissions’ position that level crossing law must be reformed, and accepts the majority of its specific recommendations for change.

There are over 7,500 level crossings in Great Britain. Each one represents a risk to the public, with a dozen deaths a year across the network. They also cause significant delays to road and rail travel.

Level crossings involve many areas of law, including railways, highways and roads, health and safety, property, planning and criminal law. The Law Commissions’ recommended reforms will modernise and simplify the legal framework, making it more coherent and accessible, and allowing for better regulation and the reduction of risk.

The Commissions recommended that safety at level crossings should be brought entirely within the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and the Department agrees. This will make it easier to regulate level crossing,, and will make the law clearer for those responsible for ensuring safety.

The Government’s response follows calls for the majority of the Commissions’ reforms to be implemented from the Transport Select Committee, and from House of Lords members debating the Infrastructure Bill.

Baroness Kramer committed the Government to drawing up an action plan by the end of the year, setting out a timetable for implementation and specifying which of the Commissions’ conclusions it would like more time to consider, and how this work will be done.

Sir David Lloyd Jones, Chairman of the Law Commission said:

“We welcome the Department for Transport’s response to the Law Commission and Scottish Law Commission’s joint recommendations on reform of the regulation of level crossings. We are particularly pleased to see that Baroness Kramer has committed the Department to delivering by the end of this year a timetable for implementing reform.

“Our reforms will achieve a better balance between the convenience of the railways, and that of non-rail users who access level crossings. In doing so, they will make it easier for safety to be improved. 

“We look forward, in the longer term, to safety at level crossings being brought entirely under the umbrella of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, and a clearer emphasis being placed on those responsible for safety carrying out risk assessments. We also look forward to seeing the outcome of the Department’s investigations on how best to improve the system for closing level crossings to make it more transparent and more efficient to reach decisions that are in the public interest.”

Welcoming the Department for Transport’s response, Ian Prosser, Director of Railway Safety at the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), said:

“Great Britain’s level crossings, although among the safest in Europe, pose a significant rail safety risk to the public, and level crossing safety is a top priority for ORR. The Law Commissions’ report represents the culmination of a significant amount of hard work and includes beneficial recommendations to reform the law in this important area.

“We are pleased, therefore, that the Department has accepted the majority of the recommendations and has made a commitment to develop an action plan by the end of 2014 setting out how further work associated with their implementation will be taken forward.

“ORR looks forward to working with the Department on the safety related recommendations and helping develop and deliver the action plan. If, as part of this, alternative proposals are put forward, we will look to ensure that they meet the spirit and intention of the original Law Commission recommendations wherever possible.”

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